Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To be a Gator

First in a series
Despite having the toughest record in the NCAA this season, Florida was often criticized for its “weak out of conference schedule” by commentators. Florida fans countered with the observation that the SEC was the toughest conference, so by merely playing an SEC slate Florida had more than proved its worthiness.

Naturally, I agree with the Florida fans side of this argument. But, if one does not play in the SEC, how could one know and respect the level of competition SEC teams, and Florida in particular, play on a near weekly basis? Thus, to the outsider, I have decided to put to paper exactly what it is to face the type of schedule the Gators do on an annual basis. In doing this exercise, I am also soliciting opinions from opposing schools on what makes their rivalries great, and what makes their schedules challenging. Learn from what I have to say, and I as well would like to learn from you.

All great college programs have their rivalries. As a college football fan, I greatly admire and respect such rivalries as Texas – Oklahoma, USC – Notre Dame and Ohio State – Michigan. Miami – Florida State is also a classic rivalry.

At Florida, we have about half a dozen so rivalries. Now this may defy credibility to the outside observer, but as an attendee of over 200 Gator games during the last 20 plus years, I can tell you it is absolutely true, at least from our standpoint. I have been to virtually every SEC stadium, and have seen firsthand the emotions and reactions of our numerous rivalries at work.

Over the coming series, I will examine our “to-the-death!” rivalries between LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, and our new rivalry with South Carolina. However, let us begin with one of the most heated – the relatively recent grudge match for the SEC East title between Florida and Tennessee.

Florida - Tennessee

Why it is important – As far as SEC rivalries go, Florida – Tennessee does not have a long history, with the two teams meeting only 21 times prior to the SEC reorganization in 1992. However, when UF and UT were placed in the same SEC East conference as a result of the reorganization, this rivalry began in earnest. For much of the 1990’s, the winner of the UF – UT game was the winner of the SEC East. In fact, for the first 10 SEC Championship games, and 12 of 15 overall, the East representative was either Tennessee or Florida (Georgia has been East representative the 3 other times).

Since the Tennessee – Florida game has been mostly the 3rd game on both team’s schedules since 1992, the loser of this game has been virtually shut out of SEC title hopes by mid-September each year. Both teams certainly play the game as if the conference title is on the line, and in fact it usually is.

Why they are good - Of the 36 times the teams have currently met, the record is a very close 19-17 in Tennessee’s favor. And no matter what you think about Phil Fulmer, in the past decade he is the most winning coach by percentage in Division I-A college football. Eight times under Fulmer UT has won 10 or more games, with an undefeated season and MNC in 1998. In the SEC over the past eleven years, Florida and Tennessee are the most winning programs.

Why we hate them – In the SEC, there is a peculiar “contest” to decide which team is the “most redneck”. Florida fans like to look down upon UT fans as “hillbilly”, as portrayed in this common joke –

Q: “What has 200 feet and 70 teeth?”

A: “The first row at Neyland Stadium”

Another popular source of ridicule for Florida fans over Tennessee fans is these 2 UT fans who, through the magic of photoshop, have appeared virtually everywhere over the past couple of years.

If you have ever been among the “not-found-in-nature” orange clad fanatics in 107,000 + seat Neyland stadium as an opposing fan, you can learn to dislike the Volunteers very quickly. The stadium, a bowl so bizarrely steep that it appears if one were to fall forward one would roll about 50 rows, is deafening. Throw in the Purina checkerboard style end zones, and the near perpetual playing of “Rocky Top”, and that dislike can quickly become extreme distaste.

On a competitive basis, the hate began in earnest during Spurrier’s first season when the Vols destroyed the Gators 45-3 in Knoxville. I sat in the torrential rains of this game as the Volunteer cheerleaders mocked the Gator chomp at sullen Gator fans to the tune of “Rocky Top”. The next year the Gators got revenge at home, in a contest so heated that fights broke out among opposing fans (Phil Fulmer’s wife claims to have a cup of piss thrown on her at this game).

After that, we mostly hate them for 1997 and 1998, when they went to the SEC championship instead of us, and especially 2001, when the September 11th rescheduled UF-UT game saw the Vols defeat the Gators 34-32 in what would be Steve Spurrier’s last game at the Swamp, denying the Gators a shot at both the SEC and MNC. 2004 was also a doozy, when the referees made a mistake that allowed the clock to stop, giving UT time to drive for a game winning field goal that they otherwise would not have gotten.

This is a game so passionately heated that it has often been characterized by fighting among rival fans, and the death of two fans in Gainesville some years ago after a game led to a still-in- effect crack down on alcohol consumption in the Gator’s home town.

Why they hate us – Partly because we have been on the winning side since the game became a regular affair in 1990. Partly because Tennessee fans consider Florida fans the most obnoxious fans on the planet (I knew a UT fan that was afraid to come to Gainesville based on stories she had heard).

They also hate us for Jabbar Gaffney’s “catch – non catch” in the 2000 contest at Knoxville. They hate us in that, but for the Gators, the 1990’s would have been the decade of Tennessee football.

Mostly, however, they hate us because native son (Johnson City, TN) Steve Spurrier chose first to play at Florida (and win the Heisman), then to coach at Florida. During the Spurrier era, Florida was 9-4 over UT, and Spurrier never passed an opportunity to take a shot at Tennessee, once famously saying “You can’t spell Citrus Bowl without UT” (the Citrus Bowl was the runner up bowl for the SEC’s second team).

Summary – To you fans of other conferences, imagine if your conference deciding game was played virtually in mid-September every year since 1992? Take Tennessee’s 1993 season as an example. After losing by 7 to Florida in Gainesville the 3rd game of the year, they ran the table to finish the regular season 10-1. Their reward? A trip to the Citrus Bowl, while Florida beat Alabama for the SEC title and went to the Sugar Bowl. Or, take Florida’s 1998 season. A 3 point loss to Tennessee at Knoxville in overtime kept a 9-2 (1 conference loss) Florida team from the SEC championship game, which UT won along with the 98’s MNC.

For Florida and Tennessee, it is not only the shot at a conference championship that is played for the second or third Saturday in September, it is a shot at the MNC. For two teams with 3 MNC’s since 1996, no year was that more evident that the present one, where Florida’s come-from-behind 1 point victory in Knoxville kept the train going that rolled all the way to Glendale on January 8th.

Throw in fans that genuinely dislike each other (I have seen more fights at UF-UT games than any other) and two teams that are always near the top of every recruiting ranking, and you have the making of a rivalry that shows no signs of diminishing.

Next: Florida vs. LSU


Henry Louis Gomez said...

Awesome post, I get goosebumps reading it. Spurrier really sticks in their craw. As for that cup of piss, I have it on good on authority that it was tepid whiskey. Have any info on that?

Anonymous said...

How many years is that chart based on?

Great article... I'm looking forward to your assessment on our other rivals.

Linda (Sarasota, FL)

Henry Louis Gomez said...

The chart is for the 2006 season. The records are the combined W-L records for all the team's opponents. As you can see, Florida's opponents had the best combined W-L record of any team. Theoretically that means we played the toughest schedule. Some people don't see it that way, and with some good reasoning. You could play a schedule full of opponents that are the best teams in weak conferences. That's why some of the computer polls factor in strength of schedule by looking not only at the W-L records of a team's opponents but of the opponent's opponents too.

In both scenarios Florida's schedule is pretty tough. Fore example Sagarin (a BCS component computer poll says Florida had the 8th hardest schedule in the country while OSU had the 38th hardest.

Anonymous said...

Damn. Just reading this makes me hyped.

The rivalry is an instant classic because it is so competitive and contentious.

I know the cliche is that every game counts in college, but TN literally sets the tone for the Gators entire season.

Great post! So looking forward to the rest.

Anonymous said...

Hey, not to use death and injuries as ammunition for debate, but I was a bit peeved as the insinuation that the only serious violence has happened in Gainesville. Don't forget 1996 when a Florida doctor and Gator fan, err, went over a railing at Neyland Stadium and was seriously hurt after a confrontation with Vols fans. If memory serves, a coma was involved? Death?

Anonymous said...

This says we had the 10th hardest schedule in the NCAA: http://www.phys.utk.edu/sorensen/cfr/cfr/Output/2006/CF_2006_Ranking_Schedule.html

Henry Louis Gomez said...


Please refer to the third comment above. Every computer rating system has a different methodology for calculating strength of schedule.

Anonymous said...


Gators gonna get stomped on soonuff cause Vols D on the rise. Ben Martin's gonna rocky top ya.

Aaron said...

Good post.

I'm a Gator who is living for a year in the Lexington area and am discovering from some of my UK friends that they are seething with angst because of the Gators. UK wasn't even on my radar as a major rivalry, but from THEIR side we are the game they circle every year. They've lost too many times--sometimes when they should have won.

I would be interested in your take on the UK-UF game as well.

Anonymous said...

For me the disgust with ut and everything vol started in '84 when the NCAA was considering a slap on the wrist for UF when the AD at tennessee kindly let it slip of some other infractions. The investigation picked up again and the first real SEC championship was officially taken away. That being said, I still have my ring from '84 and the 1984 world's Alamanac list Florida as the SEC Champions.

For me, this is the number one rivalry. Despise tyhe creamsicle orange, the purina puppy chow endzones and phil "fat boy" fulmer.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

ChiGTR 85 ,

Glad to have you as a reader. Were you a player or a coach or on the staff in some other capacity?

You guys are champions in my book.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I can't wait for the Noles to be listed here... I guarantee a rebuttal on ScalpEm.com.

SOTH said...

1990 was indeed 45-3, but the torrential rains were in 1992, also a Vol victory.

Anonymous said...

We hate Florida Marijuana, the complicated algorithm (music with instruments for Gators) suspension schedule for doper defensive linemen used by Urban "herban" meyer that baffled and confused opponents on a weekly basis. Nobody knew who Meyer would be starting, how could they prepare?

Anonymous said...

I can remember an article in USA Today a couple of years ago that asked fans of major football schools "Who is your biggest rival?"

Tennessee fans answered "Florida"

Georgia fans answered "Florida"

FSU fans answered "Florida"

Jeremy Foley answered "That's a tough question"

The article ranked the rivalries and Florida was listed four times, I think.

Anonymous said...

it's been a pleasure over the entire past season reading your vitriol and realizing just how insecure and genuinely afraid you and your ilk are of the florida gators. it must seriously be disturbing looking down here to gainesville at the best young coach in NCAA football, and looking back to knoxville only to realize that your best coach is an offensive coordinator that's bound to leave again soon, throwing your offensive into the depths of ineptitude just like...oh wait, just like the 2005 season! you should get a new schtick though, the marcus thomas/marijuana angle is getting hackneyed and, well....cashed. see you next september in the swamp, funboy~

Anonymous said...


Sorry for harping on the mota/suspension thingy. I just think that marijuana use is against the law. In fact, I know that it is against law.

No biggie, Coach has got you covered, right?

Anonymous said...

Am I missing something? I agree with you that Florida has a lot of rivals. But what does that have to do with proving the 'superiority' of the SEC?

Absolutely nothing.

The SEC superiority is a myth perpetuated by SEC fans. After Florida beat Ohio State for the National Championship all the SEC fans jumped on board the bandwagon and started spouting SEC superiority.

All the title game proved was that Florida was better than Ohio State ON JANUARY 8TH.

Sports fans are great at ignoring data that blows holes in their logic.

USC slaughtered Arkansas who played in the SEC title game. Georgia BARELY beat Colorado who got beat by a DivII school, then slaughtered Auburn.
Wisconsin beat Arkansas
Penn State beat Tennessee

All conferences have strong teams and all have weak teams. And all of those strong teams could beat each other.

Just because SEC teams beat each other up doesn't prove or disprove that the SEC is superior to other conferences.

And the fact that many of your games are heated rivals doesn't prove or disprove it either.

I could put together a team of 20 of my friends
You could put together a team of 20 of your friends
Joe Bloe could put together a team of 20 of his friends
Our teams could play each other and each team could beat the other.
That proves we are equal teams.
Doesn't prove or disprove that we could compete against Georgia, Michigan, Colorado, or any other team.

Florida, Auburn, USC, Cal, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, etc are all great teams and when they play each other, the results are up in the air.

Henry Louis Gomez said...


The one who is ignoring facts is you. When USC beat Arkansas in week 1, did Arkansas have their best player? You know, the runner up for the Heisman? No of course not. Besides a lot changes from week 1 to week 13. These are kids that learn and grow as the season progresses. That's not to mean that Arkansas beats USC in a match-up at the end of the year. Arkansas won their division in the SEC but they weren't the best team in that division. They simply had the good fortune of not having to play the eventual national champion during their regular season like LSU did.

Here's some more facts that you ignore (they were compiled by my co-blogger, Mergz):

Conferences records in the BCS title game –

ACC 1-2
Big 10 1-1
Big 12 2-3
Pac 10 1-1
Big East 1-2
SEC 3-0

The SEC is not the only the sole undefeated conference in the title game; it is the only conference with a winning record.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

And BTW, who knows if Auburn wins it the year their undefeated team got snubbed.

Anonymous said...

SEC 3-0 in the BCS title game. What does that prove? Nothing. Quit drawing conclusions from insufficient data.

It is funny to see people like you always qualify your data. "USC beat Arkansa in week 1. They didn't have their best player." Ohio State played Texas in week 2, 2 years in a row. The season starts at Week 1. Sorry. Not everyone has Southern Miss and UCF to warm up with.

My point was that there is no proof the SEC is superior, and you haven't presented any data to prove or disprove it. You just provided data that has nothing to do with it. You might as well be telling me the weather at the BCS games.

Until there is an end of season playoff, we will never know.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

You're not going to get an argument about the need for a playoff from me. If you read the series we did about the "National Championship" you will see that we agree with you on that. But in the absence of a playoff you have to look at what there is.

I suggest you look at the polls (not just the AP and Coaches) but all of the computer polls (There are links in the side bar) and tell me which conference has the most teams ranked near the top.

Look at the strength of schedule rankings. We love a debate. If you disagree with the rankings tell us why. But don't say we don't look at the data.

And as for the games and when they are played I agree with you a loss is a loss. The computers don't care that McFadden didn't play, even if its true. Or that Colt McCoy was starting his 2nd game and that Texas wasn't nearly as good at the of the year as they were projected to be. But I care. Those are factors that I look at when I make my opinions.

We heard the same argument from Michigan fans because they beat Vandy more handily than Florida did. But Vandy played Michigan at Michigan in week 1 with a QB that had thrown 3 passes in his career. The Gators played Vandy in (I believe) week 9 on the road after running grueling gauntlet against teams like LSU and Auburn.

If the common opponent argument holds water then what do you make of the Gators thrashing of OSU, a team Michigan couldn't beat despite OSU giving them multiple opportunities to do just that?

Anonymous said...

And, to look at further useless data, since you limit it to the BCS TITLE game, if you look at ALL BCS games played since 1992:

There were 62 BCS/Bowl Alliance games played.

Big 12 had the most teams play, with 29, followed by the SEC with 21, the Big East with 18, and the Big 10 & ACC each with 17.

The WAC and Mountain West both have winning records of 100% (1-0).

Other conferences with winning records?
Pac 10 - 69%
SEC - 67%
Big 10 - 53%

Anonymous said...

And, to look at further useless data, since you limit it to the BCS TITLE game, if you look at ALL BCS games played since 1992:

There were 62 BCS/Bowl Alliance games played.

Big 12 had the most teams play, with 29, followed by the SEC with 21, the Big East with 18, and the Big 10 & ACC each with 17.

The WAC and Mountain West both have winning records of 100% (1-0).

Other conferences with winning records?
Pac 10 - 69%
SEC - 67%
Big 10 - 53%

Anonymous said...

I am not going to get into a point counterpoint.

Data can be used to make whatever point either you or I want. My point is, there is no conclusive data to say the SEC is better than any other conference. You may agree or disagree.

My original point was this post was about the Tennesse v Florida rivalry and said that the # of rivalries was proof of the strength of the SEC. That doesn't prove anything.

I guess we can all agree on that we need to have a playoff, but I bet it never happens.

Until then, I just leave with this little exercise:

LSU beat Notre Dame who lost to Michigan who lost to Ohio State who lost to Florida who lost to Auburn who lost to Georgia who barely beat Colorado who lost to Texas Tech who beat Minnesota who lost to Wisconsin who beat Arkansas who lost to LSU.

That should clear up college football.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

We do a lot of statistical analysis on this blog. This post isn't part of that. The point is that unlike other schools that have one or two rivaries the Gators have at least 5 opponents that mark their calendar as one of the must win games on their schedule. And those teams tend not to be schleppers. For example Michigan and Michigan state is rivalry, though I venture to guess it's more so for MSU because they have been on the losing end so much. You could say the same for Florida and Georgia with doing most of the losing recently.

You don't agree? Fine. Whatever. That's what blogs are for.

Anonymous said...

"In the SEC over the past decade, Florida and Tennessee are the most winning programs."

This statement is flat-out false. From 1997-2006, Georgia is the winningest SEC football program. Guess you couldn't check your facts before posting, huh?

1) UGA - 96 wins
2) UF - 94 wins
2) UT - 94 wins
4) LSU - 86 wins
5) AU - 84 wins
6) ARK - 71 wins
7) UA - 66 wins
8) OM - 65 wins
9) SCU - 54 wins
10) MSU 50 wins

Mergz said...

Easy sport.

My error here was to include 1996 as a "decade". In 1996, Florida was of course 12-1, and UT 10-2, while UGA was 5-6.

So I will amend the post to say "Over the past 11 years".

That be OK with you?

Anonymous said...

Sure, it's your blog.. feel free to amend it so as to make your point.

FWIW, your post about red pants and mop tops is pretty funny stuff.

Elizabeth said...

Does anyone know where to find the poster / art print described below? It is a hand drawn cartoon of two Mighty Gators standing in a traditional swamp. One represents football and the second basketball and the both represent the Championships? If you know where to find this please email me at winniedp@aol.com. I need to find it for two Bull Gators. THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

GAME WATCHERS! Fellow Gators, one of our (certainly my) favorite passtimes, next to talking about Gator Football, is WATCHING Gator football. There is nothing like the thrill of being in the Swamp and feeling the electricity of that unbelievable scene, but most of us don't make all the games and have to WATCH them remotely.

It's great to be with other Gators to watch a game, but what options do we have in Sarasota? The Gator Club here goes to The Ale House...whoopee... 10 games going on and you have to bring a radio if you want to hear commentary - AND they can't find a site where it's just us Gators! Pathetic! Go to Captain Curts on Siesta some Saturday and see how the Ohio State club does it.

With the technology in my theater room, it is BETTER than being at the game - 56 inch dolby, replay, pause, zip through commercials, etc. So all I need is more Gators!

If you're interested, let me know and perhaps we can get together for a game.